Closing The Gap

New California bill would require employers to pay for backup child care for workers

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Only about 3 out of 10 companies in the U.S. offer free or reduced-cost emergency child care for their employees. But for workers in California, that may soon change.

California state Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo introduced a first-of-its-kind bill on Thursday that would require California-based companies with more than 1,000 employees to provide up to 60 hours of subsidized backup care for children under 14. 

Workers based in California would need to be employed by the company for at least 30 days to take advantage of the free or dramatically reduced backup care. Typically, the copay many parents pay in a subsidized backup care model is anywhere from $0 to $6 per hour of care.

Thursday's bill doesn't stipulate the maximum out-of-pocket amount parents would pay. 

If passed, the proposed subsidized care mandate would go into effect Jan. 1, 2022 and impact an estimated 3.6 million California employees, according to Carrillo, a Democrat who represents northeastern Los Angeles and East Los Angeles. This is the first bill in the U.S. to require employers to offer subsidized care. 

"Covid-19 has impacted women, and specifically women of color, at disproportionate rates," Carrillo said in a statement, adding that she's committed to implementing a solution that ensures working mothers are not left behind. "Now, more than ever, is the time to re-imagine and rebuild systems that work for women and that work for families," she said.

Reliable child care is essential for working parents

The Covid-19 pandemic has made clear the challenges U.S. parents face when child care falls through. And despite being roughly a year into the pandemic, the challenges of child care have not diminished for many American families.

About 6% of unemployed Americans, or about 6.8 million people, say the main reason they're currently not working is that they're caring for children who are not in daycare or school, according to the latest Household Pulse Survey from the Census Bureau.

Yet even before the pandemic, finding and maintaining reliable child care was a challenge. The average working parent missed eight days of work each year due to child care issues, according to Carrillo's office.

Many times, these challenges fall with greater frequency on Black and Latino workers, as well as those earning lower incomes. More than a quarter of low-income working Black, Latino and white households found it difficult to coordinate their work schedules with child care, according to a recent report from the National Research Center on Hispanic Children and Families.

In many cases, this leads to lost income. In households with children under 12, about 5% to 10% say they've missed at least one day of work because their child care fell through.

Under Thursday's proposal, employer costs to subsidize backup child care should not be too burdensome for companies, according to Carrillo's office, which estimates that companies could spend as little as $50 per employee per year. 

The bill would require companies to pay for backup child care either by directly setting up a system with a licensed provider, compensating qualified providers used by employees when invoices are submitted or reimbursing employees for any backup care costs. The legislation allows for employees to utilize and pay grandparents, friends and relatives as qualified backup care. 

"Unforeseen child-care scheduling gaps are an inevitable occurrence in a parent's life, making employer-subsidized care an essential asset to both families and the companies they work for," says Kasey Edwards, CEO and co-founder of Helpr, a California-based backup care provider.

This bill presents an opportunity to change employer benefits and provide backup care in a way that makes sense for workers at all income levels, Edwards says. "I could not be more supportive of a bill that makes care more accessible to working families," Edwards adds.  

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